x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Fatah blamed for delay in West Bank elections

Municipal elections due next month have been postponed because Fatah movement 'is in disarray and feared a low turnout'.

RAMALLAH // Municipal elections scheduled for next month in the West Bank have been postponed because of the Fatah movement's continuing internal disarray, a leading analyst said yesterday. Diana Buttu, a Ramallah-based analyst and a former legal adviser to the PLO, dismissed claims by Fatah that the delay was due to the faltering reconciliation process with its rival, Hamas.

Having failed to agree on a comprehensive list of candidates to stand in the elections, Fatah feared low voter turnout and a potential setback to smaller parties, Ms Buttu said. With presidential and parliamentary elections due this year having already been postponed because of the continued division between Gaza and the West Bank and their respective rulers, Hamas and Fatah, local elections had been seen as one way for Palestinians to have their say.

However, with municipal elections planned for the West Bank only, and in the absence of a national reconciliation agreement, Hamas cried foul and withdrew from the running in April. That should have left Fatah to clean up in the July 17 local polls, but even without serious competition, it seems the Fatah faithful remains divided. The decision was announced on Friday by the Palestinian government. Officially, the reason was that Hamas had withdrawn and to give a chance for Fatah-Hamas reconciliation talks.

But since the decision to postpone was made, six weeks after Hamas decided not to run, representatives from Hamas and smaller political parties have rejected the official explanation and accused Fatah of forcing the postponement because the party had failed to agree on nominations in key districts, including Hebron and Nablus, where Hamas traditionally does well. Indeed, so incensed were the smaller parties, who may have seen an opportunity to capitalise on Fatah's divisions and Hamas's absence, that a sit-down strike was called on Sunday in front of the office of Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian prime minister, whose office announced the postponement.

However, an official close to Mr Fayyad's government said the decision, while taken by the government, had been reached after a request from the office of Mr Abbas and came because "Fatah was unable to get its act together". Sufiyan Abu Zeideh, a member of Fatah's revolutionary council and a former minister, maintained that the decision to postpone elections was "very sad". He said one reason was indeed the official explanation that Hamas's decision not to contend the elections had been crucial. However, he added, he "couldn't rule out" that another reason was Fatah's inability to agree on a list of nominees. Such party incoherence should have been a thing of the past. Fatah's much touted Sixth General Conference in August last year was billed as the moment Mr Abbas's party began acting as one. Mr Abu Zeideh, however, said in reality little had changed within Fatah. "Unfortunately, nothing has happened since the Sixth Conference. That is a fact." Analysts, meanwhile, decried the decision as a step backward for Palestinian democracy and, by extension, hopes for national liberation. "The issue of Palestine at its core is a struggle for democracy, the idea that Palestinians choose their own leaders, not the Israelis, not the international community," said Ms Buttu. "That we ourselves would cancel an election is another dangerous slide." Ms Buttu argued that Fatah decided to postpone elections for fear of losing, voter apathy and a concern that running municipal elections without Hamas would put a question mark over the vote's legitimacy. Hamas, meanwhile, had decided not to run because they too feared a poor result, she said. "Everything is caught up in the reconciliation process between Fatah and Hamas," said Ms Buttu, chances for which, she added, are as "remote as ever". Among a group of labourers working on one of the many new buildings going up in Ramallah, little surprise was shown yesterday at the decision to postpone the municipal elections. "Why should we be shocked?" said Mustafa, 24, who commutes every day to work from a nearby village. "We live under occupation. And those who lead us are divided and have all failed to secure our freedom." okarmi@thenational.ae